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Back 40: A day in Gallatin Canyon



Annual historic tour features Big Sky area


The Historic Preservation Board of Gallatin County will host its seventh annual Historic Tour on Saturday, Aug. 11, providing a rare opportunity to view a variety of sites in Gallatin Canyon and learn from select historical experts at each stop.

Between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., people are invited to spend a “Day in the Gallatin Canyon” on a tour that includes 10 stops, which can be taken in any order. Participants are to provide their own transportation.

The tour is a yearly fundraiser for the preservation board. Profits from the tour are returned to residents of Gallatin County in the form of small grants for historic preservation purposes.

This year’s historical tour features the following sites:

Rockhaven Church Camp

Founded in 1925, Rockhaven is owned by the First Presbyterian Church of Bozeman. It is at the base of Sheep Rock on the Gallatin River. The chapel was built in 1927 by Eugene Crail using logs from the canyon. The chapel and four original ranch buildings served the needs of the Rockhaven program until a new kitchen, dining room and dorm were built in the 1950s and ’60s.

Gallatin Canyon roads and bridges

Early 1800s passage through Gallatin Canyon consisted of a variety of trails. Hunters, trappers and prospectors traveled the canyon in the 1880s, but it was the need to supply the 400-500 men at Walter Cooper’s Tie Company at Taylor Fork that led to the creation of the first good wagon road in the 1890s.

Gallatin County struggled with impassable mountainous terrain and lack of funds, but started building a road in 1898. By 1911, road work from Bozeman to Yellowstone was underway to facilitate automotive travel.

Storm Castle Bridge and Shenango Ranger Station

The Civilian Conservation Corps was responsible for building the concrete bridge across the Gallatin River and the Shenango Ranger Station at Storm Castle. The structures were built in the mid-1930s as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal Program, which taught young men vocational skills so they could secure work. Classes such as forest protection and habitat management were offered to the young men. Logs for the buildings came from the Rat Lake area.

Karst Ranch

Pete Karst arrived in the Gallatin Canyon in 1902 and witnessed its many changes through his 90 years of life. Karst Ranch began as a freight company providing service to the Cooper Tie Camp at Taylor Fork, but over the years, it morphed into a dude ranch, sawmill, hydroelectric power plant, and an asbestos mine.

Crail Ranch

Historic Crail Ranch was first homesteaded by Frank Crail in 1902. For a half century, the Crail family raised sheep, cattle, hay and wheat, expanding their holdings to 960 acres. Today, the Crail Ranch is preserved as a homestead museum, offering guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. June through September. The museum grounds are open daily for walking tours and picnicking.

Lone Mountain Ranch

When Paul Butler purchased land homesteaded by Clarence Lytle in 1917, it was named the B-K Guest Ranch. For over 100 years, Lone Mountain Ranch has given travelers a true ranch experience. The original settlers cabins and some of the outbuildings have been preserved and are still in use. Located just 18 miles from the northwest border of Yellowstone Park, the ranch offers a place to enjoy the Western way of life.

Soldiers Chapel

The Soldiers Chapel was built in 1955 as a tribute to Nelson Story IV and the soldiers in the 163rd Infantry Regiment who died in New Guinea during World War II. It’s a non-denominational church designed by Bozeman’s Fred Willson, and includes a view of Lone Mountain. The cemetery, which is full, is for fallen soldiers and residents of Gallatin Canyon.

Ophir School

The first school was opened in 1906 and the Ophir School District was established in 1912. The name, Ophir, was derived from the biblical reference to Solomon’s gold mines. The one-room log school house built in 1929 by Eugene Crail east of the Gallatin River was used until 1964 when a new building was constructed across the road. The school had grades K-8, and high school students were bused to Bozeman. In 2009, legislation was enacted which allowed the district to expand to K-12.

Porcupine Ranger Station
Located just east of the Gallatin River and Highway 191, the Porcupine Forest Service cabin is accessible by a dirt road. A docent will not be available at this location, but signage explains the history.

Tie Hack Operation

The great expansion of the Northern Pacific Railroad in Montana gave rise to a pronounced demand for quality railroad ties. The Cooper Tie Company began a “tie hack” operation up the Taylor Fork in 1902 and continued until 1907, creating an estimated 2.5 million railroad ties, which were floated down the Gallatin River to Central Park, a since-closed station on the Northern Pacific line located west of Belgrade.

Tickets are available in advance at First security Bank in Big Sky, and in Bozeman at the Gallatin History Museum and Lewis and Clark Motel. They may also be purchased the day of the event at any of the tour sites.

Call (406) 581-1311 or (406) 581-1444 for more information about the tour or the Historic Preservation Board of Gallatin County.

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